Josh Weissbock has been doing tremendous work in the field of hockey analytics, applying his knowledge of machine learning to derive statistical approximations for lower-tier leagues such as the AHL. These estimates provide insight into the performance of teams and players who infrequently get the exposure needed to form opinions upon. I recently had the fortune of receiving a copy of the data he’s collected for The Ottawa Senators’ affiliate American League team, the Binghamton Senators. Let me be clear in saying Josh deserves all the credit for the information to follow. As both a stats junkie and an avid watcher of both the Ottawa and Binghamton Senators, I jumped at the opportunity to dive into these numbers. I simply hope to compliment the work he’s done in collecting these stats with my knowledge and opinions on the players in question, for what they’re worth.
Given their success over the last few seasons, many will be surprised to learn this year’s third-seeded Eastern conference team did not fare well in possession play. Indeed, the Senators failed to break even in estimated shot differential and finished 17th in the league with a 49.34% rating in close-score, even strength situations. Binghamton managed to rack up wins riding the coattails of a 102.04% PDO which was almost entirely the product of a monstrously high 11.41% shooting percentage. A look at the team’s progression over the regular season shows they had difficulty maintaining possession numbers over 50% for appreciable stretches of games, finishing on a decidedly low note.
For NHL teams, shooting percentages far above league average should be taken as warning signs. While clubs have shown they can sustain inflated percentages through long stretches (sometimes entire seasons), over long enough periods they will always regress toward the mean. By this logic, it’s fair to expect a significant drop in the Baby Sens’ shooting rates in the coming season, which could be fairly troublesome should they fail to address their possession woes. In their defence, the Senators benefitted from an abundance of NHL-caliber shooting talent this year. While it’s impossible for me to substantiate this, I would venture so far as saying larger spreads exist between AHL teams’ Sh% than they do in the National Hockey League. The difference between an ECHL replacement-level player and a borderline NHLer is likely larger than that of an NHL fourth-liner and a top line player, for instance. There is thus more room for true shooting talent to separate itself from the noise and randomness that often clouds such things. I’ll come back to this later on.
Unfortunately for the Senators, possession was not the sole area of concern this season. On the whole, Binghamton’s goaltending left to be desired; the tandem of Nathan Lawson and Andrew Hammond combined for a net .906 save percentage. Hammond led the way with a .910 percentage that places him right around league average, while Lawson struggled at a measly .902. Save for two dreadful outings, Hammond showed remarkable consistency through his 44 starts as shown below:
The recent college free agent signing played his way to a starting role come next season, though he’ll likely need to see his numbers improve if the Sens hope to repeat a playoff appearance.
In order to provide context for the stats to follow, Josh has provided QoC and QoT estimates for all Binghamton skaters. Here are the team’s regular players ranked in order of decreasing Quality of Competition:
Jean-Gabriel Pageau saw the toughest competition among skaters having played over 20 games, with David Dziurzynski slotting in as a close second. The top pairing of Borowiecki and Claesson led all defencemen, though the former clearly received the tougher assignments of the two. At the opposite end, Prince and Hoffman were undoubtedly sheltered in their usage by head coach Luke Richardson. It’s interesting the second year coach elected to avoid head-to-head match-ups between his potent top line and those of opposing teams. Evidently, the softer assignments paid off in goals as Da Costa and Hoffman decimated weaker competition at even-strength.
The size of each bubble represents TOI, while the colour is proportional to the player’s estimated even strength on-ice GF%. Hamilton, Cowick and Kramer struggled mightily compared to their peers, allowing far more goals against than they produced. David Dziurzysnki didn’t fare much better, though being weighed down by the aforementioned three in addition to the tough competition he faced partially absolves him of this fact. Much like the Senators’ top forward alignment, Sdao and Blood made the most of their soft match-ups, getting roughly 59% of the goals at five-on-five. Borowiecki and Claesson, in contrast, received the lion’s share of the duties against opposing teams’ best players and were both net positives. Fredrik Claesson had himself a very strong sophomore campaign, dominating opposition despite being deployed in very difficult situations. It’s unfortunate for him that Mark Borowiecki’s one-way contract kicks in next year, but the young Swede has solidified his position near the top of the list of potential call-ups. It’s easy to see why coach Luke Richardson speaks so highly of Jean-Gabriel Pageau. His defensive acumen and efficiency on the penalty kill are well documented and as can be clearly seen above, he’s performed exceptionally well at even strength considering his usage. His point-per-game rate in the American league was fourth best on the team, a testament to the offensive firepower that would eventually carry them to a postseason appearance. Here’s how Binghamton’s regular skaters ranked in a number of offensive categories:
A couple things stand out, here. Firstly, Mike Hoffman predictably outperformed all other Senators in just about every field. The IPP column shows what percentage of on-ice goals a player registered a point on. A quick glance at Hoffman’s rating reveals the extent to which everything passed through him on the way to the back of the net. In addition, Hoffman boasted an absurdly high shot per game rate which corroborates with what Travis Yost showed regarding his shooting at the next level. The phrase “too good for this league” applies here; his estimated point equivalency in the NHL is 47 over a full season. Depending on the possibility of Hemsky re-signing, he may get a crack at that total playing in Ottawa’s top-six next year. The second thing that draws my attention is how high some of these shooting percentages are. Four players surpassed the 15% mark, with the fifth narrowly falling short at 14.9%. For comparison’s sake, Clarke MacArthur was the only regular Ottawa skater to accomplish it this season, and just barely. For the most part, the names atop this list are who you would expect. To revisit what I mentioned earlier about AHL shooting percentages, there’s evidence here that borderline NHLers can separate themselves from the pack to a larger extent than what is seen in the big league. That being said, there’s no doubt luck accounted for a large part of these massive figures and it would be unwise to expect them to carry over into next season.
Individually, many of the Binghamton Senators had very positive seasons. A name seldom mentioned in conversations about Senators prospects is Chris Wideman. The diminutive defenceman quietly amassed 51 points to lead all blue liners. Against middling competition, he helped the team to a respectable 53.92% share of even-strength goals while assuming the role of the club’s top powerplay threat among defenceman. After registering nine goals and five assists through his first thirty games, Matt Puempel exploded in the second half to score 21 goals and a total of 34 points in the remaining 44 games of his rookie season. Unlike fellow 2011 draft pick Shane Prince who also posted strong point totals this year, Puempel was not protected from top lines and pairings. I’ve expressed on a number of occasions my belief that Derek Grant deserves a longer look with the big club. Like Pageau, Grant is a jack-of-all-trades type of player who excels on the penalty kill. The comparisons extend to the quality of their on-ice competition, against whom both fared very well. Grant did not produce at the same rate as Pageau, though he didn’t have the luxury of sharing a line with as many offensive-minded players either. If Ottawa’s organizational depth at center forces Bryan Murray’s hand in dealing Grant, one team will be adding a formidable fourth-line forward. In his cup of coffee in the NHL this year, Grant had a +4.6% Rel CF% which leads the team if you set 20 GP as the qualifier. Darren Kramer was notably bad for Binghamton and put his team at a significant disadvantage whenever he was on the ice (remind you of anyone?)
The Senators’ brief playoff season is a reminder of how quickly things can take a turn for the worst when you’re not winning the possession battle. Andrew Hammond stumbled to a .891 save percentage and the team couldn’t compensate with goals at the other end. There is reason for optimism among certain players but with many of them inevitably moving on, the outlook is not great for the Senators’ AHL affiliate. Regression is coming, and this team must address whichever areas are hurting their possession play if they hope to play past April.
Thanks for reading!